Following the suicide of his grief ridden wife, Australian farmer Joshua Connor (Crowe) goes in search of his three sons missing in action after the battle of Gallipoli in 1915. His journey throws him up against British bureaucracy, Turkish insurrections and a widowed hotelier (Kurylenko).
The Water Diviner, Russell Crowe’s first film as a director, is probably the kind of film young Russ grew up on. A sincere ambitious, handsomely put together war drama that couldn’t give a fig about the 16-24 demographic, The Water Diviner at times rises above its old fashioned qualities to suggest levels of cultural complexity but also gets mired in a gooey romance that would make your gran vomit.
The first hour is the film’s strongest stretch. Kicking things off with a powerful portrayal of the Gallipoli conflict but unusually played out from the point of the view of the Turkish, Crowe sets up the story of farmer Joshua Connor in broad but affecting strokes. Connor’s three sons went MIA and presumed dead at Gallipoli and we flit between an idyllic past reading Arabian Knights takes and sheltering from a spectacular dust bowl and an unimaginable present in which Connor and his wife fail to come to terms with their loss. As much as it is about Australia’s tragedy, Crowe significantly acknowledges losses on all sides. The Water Diviner understands that no country has a monopoly on grief.
As a filmmaker, Crowe cleaves close to David Lean. LOTR cinematographer Andrew Lesnie’s imagery is exquisite, full of sunsets and water symbolism. Crowe the director also gets a good performance from his star, Crowe the actor giving Connor dignity and reserve. But it’s when the film settles in Constantinople as Connor searches for his sons that Crowe’s heart finally appears on his sleeve. Connor strikes up a relationship with hotelier Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko in a thankless role) and her young son that feels forced and false. Admirably it’s a film that wants to say deep, sincere things about the pain of war and the need for tolerance but it lacks the details and depths to say them.
It's an odd mix of Saving Private Ryan odyssey and romantic melodrama. It has sincerity, sensitivity and is often ravishing to look at but is let down by a chocolate box love story. Still, Crowe still might have a Braveheart/Dances With Wolves in him yet.